Mark Watches ‘The Next Generation’: S06E11 – Chain of Command, Part II

In the eleventh episode of the sixth season of The Next Generation, I WASN’T READY. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of torture, both physical and emotional, gaslighting, nonconsensual drugging.

Well. That hurt to watch.


Let’s talk about this plot first because the rest of it is going to be a challenge. (In a good way, because HOLY SHIT, HOW IS THIS EPISODE REAL.) I’m fine with Jellico being a one-note character, and I think by the end of “Chain of Command,” you could read his behavior in two separate ways. Throughout the second half of this two-parter, he’s even more aggravating than he was before, especially since he’s willing to risk human life – including Picard’s – all so he can have another negotiation tactic. He’s crass, callous, and wholly lacks any sort of empathy for the people whose life he’s toying with. So why does he decide at the conclusion of this story to include the return of Picard?

I think there are two possible reasons for that. First of all, it’s clear that despite all of his enraging tendencies, Captain Jellico does get shit done. He figures out a way to take advantage of the nebula in order to place a network of mines around the Cardassian ships, and it’s a brilliant move. So I wonder, then, if this was the point the whole time. Did he merely act like such a huge asshole just to get to that point? I’m more of the opinion that Jellico changed his mind because of people like Geordi and Riker. Perhaps Riker’s angry outburst forced Jellico to reconsider his outlook. Throughout this two-parter, people are pawns that achieve the endgame that he wants. But what happens when he discards people just as easily as he controls them? Well, in Riker’s cast, he’s forced to come crawling back with his tail between his legs to ask for help in placing the mines. For Jellico, it’s an act of humiliation, one he’s not proud of.

I like the idea that this made him demand that the Cardassians give back Picard. I like it because it means he’s wrong and I’m totally petty, okay? I DON’T LIKE JELLICO AT ALL.


You know, I spent a lot of time referencing Nineteen Eighty-Four on my tour this year because it’s indirectly an influence on the book I’m writing. I kept feeling like the four/five lights bit seemed familiar, and now I recall that it’s a direct reference to Winston’s torture scene in that novel. It’s intentional for another reason, though: this is the world that Picard has now entered. It’s dystopian because it’s so complete. And I know why it disturbed me so much, too. This was never about getting information from Picard. Ultimately, Gul Madred was destined to fail, no matter what he did. Picard did not have what he wanted, and no amount of torment would have ever given him the defense plans. And let’s say that he truly didn’t know that. Why continue to torture Picard so voraciously?

There’s a scene that briefly addresses this, accusing Madred of using Picard as a chance to act out his anger over what happened to him as a child. But in the end, it’s just a theory, one that might be highly possible, but still just a hypothesis nonetheless. I think that “Chain of Command,” more than anything else, posits the futility and savagery of torture as a whole. It shows us acts of violence that are upsetting and disgusting, but the episode also makes sure to openly criticize the acts as well. We are meant to see how futile torture is, just as we are meant to see how damaging it is to Picard. And good lord, both David Warner and Patrick Stewart are unreal here, and it’s one of the best set of performances in the entire show.

Look, here’s what I appreciate about “Chain of Command.” It’s a brilliantly acted episode. The story is extremely well-written. It’s one of the finest hours in the whole show’s run. But it’s also the most openly violent and distressing episode, too. I appreciate that the writers knew this. There’s a very obvious element to this story that acknowledged that The Next Generation is dipping into something we rarely, if ever, see on the show. They treat this with care, the script is obviously aware of what it is invoking, and the story we’re given is a powerful and upsetting look at the failure of torture. For something so visceral, it’s remarkably subtle and nuanced. That’s not easy to pull off when, on the surface, this episode comes off like a brick. I’d argue that it’s one of the more layered depictions of torture that I’ve ever seen, and I’m incredibly impressed.


The video for “Chain of Command, Part II” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

Mark Links Stuff

– I will be at numerous conventions in 2016! Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be season 1 of Agent Carter, seasons 1 & 2 of The 100, Death Note, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
This entry was posted in Star Trek, The Next Generation and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.